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The Blackbird

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The orchard was calm, almost hypnotic. The trees swayed silently in the soft summer breeze. Graying clouds rolled lazily across the simple blue sky. The sun fell slowly towards the horizon of the emerald green hills beyond. Here, life was peaceful, tranquil, and serene.
A young gypsy girl, named Yvette from a small group of Romani’s, stood next to a small apple tree, her purple skirts flowing gently around her ankles. Fluttering over her back, her long dark hair was wild and had feathers and brightly coloured wooden beads hanging on the ends of long braids. She gazed longingly out at this scene, her thoughts a thousand miles away.
Although she had travelled all her life Yvette dreamed of going to Africa. She had heard of it from boastful explorers drinking large amounts of ale as her older brothers emptied their pockets. They rambled on about vast expanses of sand, ancient treasures and a sun so close to the Earth you could almost touch it.
Someday, thought Yvette. Her grandmother used to tell her stories of faraway lands. Long ago she had actually been to Egypt. On a fine cord of golden string was a peacock feather. She claimed she had tricked a great bird of many forms by telling a riddle with no answer. In return for her cleverness the bird had become the most beautiful it could be, a grand peacock and given the woman one small feather from its tail. Although now it was tattered and old Yvette’s grandmother carried it with her wherever she went like it was a priceless jewel.
Yvette smiled as she watched a small Blackbird glide and swoop gracefully around the trees. It twisted around the branches and finally came to rest on a low branch not far from Yvette. It regarded her sinisterly with its shiny black eyes. Yvette felt strangely cold under its scrutiny and her smile faded. She plucked a few more shiny red apples from the trees around her and dropped them into the basket at her feet. Then gathering it up she wondered slowly through the orchard, delaying the moment when she would have to go back to the busy campsite. The Blackbirds beady eyes never left her. It hopped from branch to branch, following her. The back of her neck prickled and beginning to feel really uneasy she picked up the pace. She strode more purposefully now, towards the path that led out of the orchard, over the hill and to the road her family had trundled along in their bright caravans that morning. As she left the orchard behind she felt the gaze of the Blackbird lift. Glancing back she saw that it had remained in the orchard.
As she came into view of the campsite her four little brothers ran to meet her. They grabbed an apple each and chatted through full mouths about nonsense she had heard before. The campsite was small, with three colourful wooden caravans parked in a loose semi-circle. Six powerful horses grazed calmly to the side. Long, bright grass was trampled down by many feet and a fire burned low in a circle of stones in the center of the gypsy camp. A skinny, dark haired girl in bright yellow skirts and shawls of red and orange approached Yvette as she came to rest in the quiet camp.
“Back so soon?” Ami teased as Yvette dumped the basket of apples next to the caravan in which the food and items of value were stored. Ami was Yvette’s most dear friend and cousin.
Yvette grinned at her and asked, “Where is everyone. It’s so nice and quiet.” She looked around as if everyone was just hiding and about to jump out yelling BOO!
“Yeah, weird huh?” said Ami. “I went down to the village with the boys to get some herbs and when I came back… empty” she shrugged and sat down on the back of the caravan. Yvette gazed up at the sky. The dull blue of dusk was scattered with tiny diamonds, to the west the sinking sun made the clouds glow pink. A dart of black caught her eye and she followed it. The Blackbird settled on a high branch in a tall looming fir tree and stared down at Yvette. She felt lost in its gaze as if it could see right through her. She shook her head and turned back to Ami.
“They’ll be back soon. Uncle Marek isn’t likely to miss dinner” Yvette felt like she was assuring herself more than her friend. She glanced back up at the tree. She sighed with relief, the bird was gone.
Ami stood up and gazed over at the top of the caravan furthest from them. “Blackbirds are bad luck.” She warned. Startled Yvette followed her gaze. On the bright red painted roof, perched the Blackbird. In its beak was her grandmothers old peacock feather.



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